As this Blog is just starting, Day 1 seemed an appropriate topic to begin with. What is Day 1 for a video game blog, you ask? Well, there are plenty of “Day Ones” (my, that is an awkward plural in writing) out there, particularly in two video game arenas. The first, and most obvious, I think, is the survival game. Whether you’re playing Minecraft, DayZ, or Don’t Starve, Day One is crucial. Every new play-through starts in that same place. But, as our title asks, is that a place we want to be?
First off, I don’t think anyone is under the delusion that a Day One is much fun by itself. Your first day in Minecraft, the popular resource gathering and building game, is spent scrabbling to put together just enough to get through the night. In DayZ, an online, zombie survival sim, where frankly the difficulty means that your Day One is also your only day, it is about as far from fun as you can get to be basically alone and naked, scrounging through tins and candy wrappers in abandoned farms, hoping just to find something useful enough to use before a zombie, or worse, other players find you. Despite the promise of a fresh slate, Day One in these games is most defined by starting from zero and having a long uphill climb ahead before any kind of stability or security can be found.
A different kind of example we can look at is the strategy game. Take Advance Wars, for example, the turn based, grid based classic for the gameboy. Each turn is a Day and those first few turns in games that usually have thirty or forty, are always exactly the same in most cases: beginning the construction of infantry and support troops to make enough money or secure enough space to build the bigger, better, units. It’s always the same and it’s rarely interesting. How about Pikmin. In this case, Day One is essentially a tutorial, and everyone loves tutorials, right? The Prosecution rests. But what about the Defense?
Now to be fair, any Day One does serve a purpose of a kind. While I jest about tutorials, you have to learn how to play Pikmin somehow, right? No one runs before they walk. Working backwards, the Day One in Advance Wars (or similar games like Fire Emblem) may often be the same, but it is in those first few turns that determine the course of everything that follows. Watching your opponent early on lets you know whether they plan to play the long game or invest early, trying to wipe you out before you can produce high powered units. What fronts are they defending, etc? And to be fair, campaign missions in Advance Wars usually start the player out with Units already on the field, and a specific arrangement of Enemy troops to analyze.
So how about the survival game? I don’t think I can ever justify calling Day One “fun” in Day Z or Minecraft, but I do think I can justify a value for it. The early days of a survival game provide the difficulty, and in extension, the reward for these games. Why do people enjoy super difficult platformers like Cloudberry Kingdom and Donkey Kong Country Returns? Because when you finally do prevail, it’s really damn satisfying. You feeling like you’ve conquered the world! If it was easy, the reward wouldn’t be so good. Likewise, without suffering through Day One (and Two and probably Three) in a game like Day Z or Minecraft, it wouldn’t be as special to have built a home, or fortress, with defenses and resources, and security. You get the satisfaction (if you stick with it) of looking out at what you’ve built and knowing that you made all, against the odds, from nothing.
In the end, despite how little fun a Day One ever is, I think we need them in our video games. While beginning with an empty battlefield in Advance Wars is still annoying, in all the other circumstances above, I thing Day One is something you need. You need it to set the stage, lay out the rules, and challenge you to make it to Day Two. So the next time you’re with a friend who’s playing Minecraft or DayZ for the first time and feels like they’re not any good, maybe prop them up and tell them it’ll get better. Unless they suck at video games. Then they should stop and go play Kirby.
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Doug and Tomarris